August 2, 2006 was the day I sent my husband off to war. We had been married two and a half months.
We drove to his Army Reserve unit early that morning. The unit scheduled some kind of “Family Readiness” briefing for spouses/families that day, before we had to say goodbye. This 45-minute presentation would be my first and only introduction to the Army way of life throughout his entire deployment, or ever, but the briefing was scheduled at something like 9 or 10am, two hours after the soldiers were required to show up. So after I dropped off my soldier, I had to occupy myself alone in the thriving metropolis of Wilson, NC.
I had passed a Waffle House on the way in, so I headed back there, figuring it might be the only place open at that hour, and I could probably stand to choke down some toast to soak up some stomach acid. After I’d been there a little while and eaten half my toast, I decided I would kill some time by writing a letter to a friend. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d manage to do so without crying, but I had to do something.
Halfway into my letter, the waitress came over to ask me if it would bother me if she played the jukebox. I might have been the only customer in the joint at the point, and I guess she thought it might distract me from my writing. I thought it was rather considerate of her to ask, but I assured her it would be no problem.
The song the waitress chose from the jukebox was, of course, a country song, which besides being incredibly stereotypical of a Waffle House waitress in Wilson, NC, was also stereotypically sad. Yet of all the sad country songs on the jukebox that my waitress could have chosen, the one she picked, on the day I sent my husband off to war, was Toby Keith’s "American Soldier," with cruel, cruel lyrics about freedom not being free.
It was all I could do to keep it together while scribbling with my head down in my little booth. After about a minute, I knew I would have to take refuge in the bathroom. I thought maybe the lyrics would be muffled by the extra door, or at the very least, I could blow my nose, splash some water on my face, and/or repair my makeup. But soon I decided I just needed to get the hell out of there altogether. I managed to make myself presentable enough to pay my bill.
By the time I got to the register, the American Soldier song was over, but my ordeal was not. The universe hadn’t had enough fun at my expense. The next song on the jukebox? "I Miss My Friend."
Good thing I wasn't really a country music fan. I'd have had to give that up for a year, too.